Another American has died in the Dominican Republic, bringing total to at least 8 this year

David Oliver

A 56-year-old man from Long Island, New York, has died in the Dominican Republic, according to multiple reports.

Vittorio Caruso's family told News 12 Long Island about their relative's death on June 17. His sister-in-law Lisa Maria Caruso, said that his family got a phone call telling them he was sick, only to find out minutes later that he died. Vitttorio owned a pizza shop in Glen Cove, New York.

The State Department told Fox News that Caruso had died, and a spokesperson confirmed to USA TODAY that another U.S. citizen died in June. 

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Dominican authorities were not giving the family clear answers, according to Caruso's relatives. "We found out he was brought by ambulance to the hospital in respiratory distress after drinking something," Lisa Maria Caruso told Fox News. "We were told he wasn't responding to any meds he was given and died. I honestly don't know exactly what happened, as we have been told conflicting stories from different people there."

The family was in contact with Dominican Republic authorities and found out that he might have had a heart attack, News 12 Long Island reports.

His neighbor, Levonne Pittman, told the outlet: "He was a sweetheart. Very loving man, always said hi every morning, 'how's everyone doing?' We always went down the the restaurant. He was appeasing to me and my family. Nice man."

Dominican Republic official: Country is safe: 'There is not an avalanche of deaths'

Caruso is the eighth confirmed American to have died this year in the Dominican Republic, and questions have been raised about whether travel is safe to the Caribbean vacation destination. But a Dominican Republic official spoke out at a press conference Friday to dispel concerns.

"The Dominican Republic is a safe country," Francisco Javier Garcia, the minister of tourism in the Dominican Republic, told reporters.

“There is no such thing as mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic," Garcia said. "There is not an avalanche of deaths.”

Garcia said the number of deaths is not out of the ordinary and that the number is lower than in some previous years. Garcia said in both 2011 and 2015 through June, 15 tourists died in the Dominican Republic. 

The deaths and violence in question

Two weeks ago, two Americans were found dead in their hotel rooms in the Caribbean vacation destination: Joseph Allen, 55, of Woodbridge, New Jersey, and Leyla Cox, 53, of Staten Island, New York.

Cox died on June 10, the State Department confirmed to USA TODAY. 

Allen's sister, Jamie Reed, told WABC-TV that his body was discovered the morning of June 13 in his hotel room at Terra Linda Resort in Sosua, located on the Caribbean country's northern coast. The previous night, he had complained to friends that he felt feverish and went to bed early. 

That same week, David Ortiz, one of the most popular players in Boston Red Sox history, was shot in his native Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic’s chief prosecutor said Ortiz was not the intended target of the June 9 shooting that put his life in peril, but was merely the victim of a hit gone wrong.

In May, Maryland couple Edward Nathaniel Holmes, 63 and Cynthia Ann Day, 49, were found dead in their hotel room. Within a week, a woman from Pennsylvania, Miranda Schaup-Werner, 41, died at the same hotel chain.

The Maryland couple who died each had internal bleeding, preliminary autopsy results showed, according to CNN. Holmes was found to have an enlarged heart and cirrhosis of the liver, while Day had fluid in her brain.

Schaup-Werner reportedly died after drinking from his hotel's minibar.

One hotel is disputing the timeline of an alleged attack of a Delaware woman that also made news that week. 

In April, the brother of "Shark Tank" star Barbara Corcoran, New Jersey-native John Corcoran, also died in the Dominican Republic. But Corcoran said her brother's death was of natural causes related to an existing heart condition.

A man who the State Department has not identified by name also became ill and later died on April 14.

Illness also called into question

Dominican Republic travelers have also reported illness that has come to light since safety concerns have been in the news. 

A group of Jimmy Buffett fans, members of the Central Oklahoma Parrothead Association, told Oklahoma TV station KFOR and NBC News that they became seriously ill while staying at the Hotel Riu Palace Macao in Punta Cana in April. More than 40 travelers in the group of 114 experienced similar symptoms, including fever, dizziness and diarrhea.

And a group of 40 graduating seniors and their parents from Deer Creek High School in Edmond, Oklahoma, were on a trip to the Caribbean vacation destination when at least five members became ill, according to local TV stations KOTV and KOCO. 

One of the parents, Liz McLaughlin told KOTV that her daughter was one of the students to get sick on June 11 after eating at a Japanese restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, where the group was staying. 

"We just don’t know what is happening," she said. "Is it the water? Is it the ice? Is it the food? Is it the food handling? Is it the pesticides? We have no idea what’s going on."

Dominican Republic deaths: What we know, including two more US tourists incidents

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Contributing: Julia Thompson, Leora Arnowitz, Adrianna Rodriguez, Sara Moniuszko, Jessica Bies and Jayme Deerwester

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Another American has died in the Dominican Republic, bringing total to at least 8 this year